Monday, April 4, 2011

Scent of a Character

I had a major palm-to-forehead moment at Saturday's writer's conference.

This year, the workshop leader focused on character, which was great since I'm in the middle of character-building for my revision-in-progress fantasy novel.

My a-ha moment was just after he handed out a character questionnaire. We've all seen them:

and so on.

Then he sat down and said, "I have one more question for you to consider: how does your character smell?"

It's an awesome question because you can tell a lot about someone from their scent.

It can clue you in on the character's profession (or lack thereof).
A character who smells of:
horses and hay? A cowboy, a horse-groomer, a competitive rider;
cookies and crayons? A kindergarten teacher;
rubbing alcohol? A doctor or nurse;
urine and body odor? A homeless person.

Scent can reveal hidden secrets.
A character in a three-piece suit who smells of grease and brake fluid;
The yoga instructor who smells like cigarette smoke;
The man who is vegan for his girlfriend but smells like barbecue.

Or a character can have a signature fragrance:
they enjoy vanilla-scented perfume because it reminds them of baking at grandma's house;
the starving artist who wears $300 per bottle perfume because it make her feel important and it reminds her to "keep her eyes on the prize."
And you know there's going to be a big difference between a character who wears Aqua Velva (or smells of Brylcreem) versus a man who wears Axe.

I can't believe I've been blind to this in my character development. It's important, especially since scent is the sense tied closest to memory!

I've added "character's scent?" to my character profile sheets. From now on, my characters are going to be deeper (and smellier)!

~ ~ ~

This weeks links:

Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)

That’s Deep, Man—3 Tips on Deep POV Part 1

Your Hero: Top Ten Rules (Expanded)

GMC (Goals-Motivation-Conflict) Charts for Your Characters

Hilde’s Top Ten Things To Do With a Rejection Letter


  1. Now I'm doing the forehead slap too! I often try to include smells in my stories, but I don't think I've ever attached the smells to a character. Good one! :)

  2. Thanks! I think it must be one of those "can't see the forest for the trees" things. I can't believe I never saw it before!

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


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